Putin’s ‘chef’ pays Russian operatives released by Libya

File photo. Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin prior to a meeting with business leaders held by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping (both not pictured) at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, 4 July 2017. [Pool/EPA/EFE]

An ally of President Vladimir Putin has shelled out nearly $500,000 to two Russian political operatives recently freed by Libya after 18 months in captivity, his company said Monday (14 December).

Russian media last week reported that Maxim Shugaley and his interpreter Samir Seifan, who were arrested in Libya in May 2019 on charges of vote meddling, were released on 10 December and were flying back to Russia.

Concord, a company owned by EU-sanctioned businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, said on Monday that he would be supporting the two men with 18 million rubles (€202,600) each — 1 million rubles for each of the 18 months they were held captive.

“Russians don’t abandon their own!” Concord said in a statement on the social media network Vkontakte.

Nicknamed “Putin’s chef” because his company has catered for the Kremlin, Prigozhin was sanctioned by the European Union in October on grounds of undermining peace in Libya by supporting the Wagner private military company.

EU sanctions senior Putin aides over Navalny, Libya

The EU on Thursday (15 October) sanctioned senior aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin, including the man known as his chef, over the poisoning of opposition figure Alexei Navalny and Kremlin meddling in Libya’s civil war.

Prigozhin, 59, was earlier sanctioned by the United States for his links to Wagner, which has been accused of sending mercenaries to fight in conflicts in Libya, Syria and countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

In conflict-torn Libya, Moscow backs strongman Khalifa Haftar against the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

Shugaley and Seifan — both Russian citizens — were accused last year by Libyan authorities of election meddling on behalf of Moscow while they were working with the son of ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Russia had made their release a condition for any improvement in relations with the internationally recognised Tripoli-based government.

Both operatives were employed by the Foundation for the Defence of National Values, a Moscow-based organisation that is part of a media group the United States has linked to Prigozhin.

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